In Europe, Liberty Global looks to Horizon STB to battle Google TV, Apple TV and other OTT challengers

Jim O'NeillEurope has been fertile ground for over-the-top incursions, so it's no surprise that MSO Liberty Global is looking toward its own solution to incorporating subscriber demand for access to Internet television.

Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries, as well as other Liberty Global execs, have been talking up the cableco's soon-to-be-launched Horizon set-top box. The box eventually will enable subscribers to "network all possible devices in the home and watch TV with them," he said. "No matter if it is a smartphone, iPad, or computer--wirelessly. We are introducing a whole new viewing experience. We call it 'TV anywhere.' Also, you will have access to web content on the television. There is also a unique new navigation menu and intuitive operation. In short, we create a comprehensive multimedia center for your home."

The Horizon gateway, Fries said, also will address the bane of pay-TV, the program guide. "We need to go forward and develop a more powerful tool and use a more elegant approach," he said at last years CTAM Summit in Budapest. Horizon will also give operators--he has said there are more than a dozen other cable companies looking at becoming a part of the Horizon ecosystem--powerful devices that will also allow apps onto the platform.

In the background, stand challengers like Apple TV, Google TV, and Boxee. There are more on the way and Fries is hoping--knows, he said--that Horizon will be able to stand toe-to-toe with them and, eventually dominate.

Apple TV, he recently said, "doesn't give me sleepless nights." Nor, Fries said, does Google TV, which is still a work in progress, concern him.

"The content offered and the ease of use are unsatisfactory," he said of Google TV, adding that "the same is true for Apple TV."

But here's at least one worry: the Horizon hasn't yet hit the market. It's scheduled for rollout sometime in, perhaps, summer, in the Netherlands. That's a long ways off, and neither Google nor Apple are prone to sitting on their hands.

Will Horizon have the oomph it needs to battle those two heavyweights? Or will it be just one more "solution" that doesn't satisfy the masses? And, of course, that begs the larger question: What do the masses of TV viewers really want? -Jim